Ven Master Xingyun grew up in Jiangsu during the Japanese invasion, he was very near Nanjing during the time of the Rape of Nanjing; and this area was also a major area during the civil war between the Nationalists and Communists that followed. My understanding is that his position on the death penalty is for those people who slaughtered huge numbers of unarmed men, women and children, including large numbers of clergy. He also indicates the attitude for such execution, as given above.
I don't think any of this justifies condoning the execution of criminals no matter how horrible they are. If the individuals in question are truly guilty of massacres and creating untold misery then they will experience it in this life and probably many more to come. It is not for us to act as initiators of that karmic fruit.
If Ven. Xingyun thinks karma-vipaka is civil justice and firing squads, I think he is surely mistaken. The consequences of promoting such a position as well given his position and millions of followers is also likely to encourage the death penalty and violence rather than prevent it. What kind of monk would do such a thing?
I would just like to point this out, rather than a very broad statement of "fine with executing criminals". One could point to various positions within the Mahayana of a / the bodhisattva taking life to save others.
I don't think you can be sure the prison executioner and/or firing squad is made up entirely of Bodhisattvas. Ven. Xingyun makes it sound like the executioners will all have pure intentions, mechanical and unfeeling, when they take the life of a criminal. Quite the opposite. They probably feel satisfied in their killing of a murderer or some other type of criminal. The executioners will suffer the fruits of such karma themselves. If the whole death penalty system was abolished, the executioners would not be in such a position to kill someone by order of the state.
Moreover there are cases of Bodhisattvas taking life to save others, but that isn't executing criminals who are in jail and not of any danger to anyone outside.
Again, I think what Ven. Xingyun suggests is idealistic and dangerous. It is quite irresponsible on his part.
Personally, I do not support such a position, and would prefer to be without the death penalty altogether. But my own background is vastly different from that of my teacher, and I have never personally experiences two of the most barbaric slaughters that humanity has enacted in the last century, whereas he has.
I am not so sympathetic. Some people think he is enlightened and meanwhile it sounds like he is holding onto a lot of bitterness from his past. Where is the forgiveness? Where is the wisdom that allows one to forgive having insight into emptiness? Does he not have any of this?
I have expressed this position in FGS, and I have never been told that I had to except Ven Master's position, or that only it is correct (vis your "Anything the Grand Master says is generally considered irrefutable and not subject to open criticism").
Did you say Ven. Xingyun was wrong or just that you have a different opinion? There is a difference.
As mentioned above, some Buddhist literature does support this view. For example, some versions of the "merchant bodhisattva" story. (Vis your "this is completely contrary to what the Buddha taught, therefore there is no scriptural support for such a position, but on the contrary quite a lot of scripture to refute it".) There is scriptural support both ways, and we should at least admit this, even is we consider one side to be correct and the other inaccurate.
Those stories do not support the idea of executioners taking the lives of convicted criminals. Show me somewhere in a Buddhist canon somewhere where killing a criminal in jail is okay.
If such a character was perhaps standing in front of a line of monks with a machine gun ready to gun them down, that is a different case altogether. However, that is not the death penalty for a convicted criminal, but rather self-defence and the defence of others. Moreover from a Buddhist point of view it is potentially sparing the culprit from hell.
You yourself also cite ". Those involved in handing down the death penalty may even accumulate positive karma if their intentions are as pure as those of Shakyamuni Buddha, who, according to the Jakarta [Jataka] tales, had, in one of his previous lives, killed a bandit to prevent him from massacring five hundred merchants." How can you say there is no scriptural support?
I say there is no scriptural support for legislation condoning the execution of criminals in a prison.
Self-defence is entirely different from capital punishment.
When neverdowell states "The Dalai Lama thinks it's OK to kill a leader (president, general etc) who is about to declare war, in order to prevent the war, as long as it's done with very pure compassion (he is clear about this). I think I agree with that, but definitely not with capital punishment." this is basically the same position. As noted above, Ven Master Xingyun is, IIRC, reserving this only for the worst of war criminals (such as which his has personal experience, and hence strong opinions about).
That's still quite different from capital punishment and the death penalty. Killing a leader about to commit a genocide prevents the deed from occurring. Killing a leader who ordered a genocide when the deed has been done is just revenge driven by hatred. If the former leader is in prison he is no harm to anyone.
Regards the question "Is he Buddhist?", well, he holds a position that is also held by many other Buddhists, and is supported by some Buddhist literature. It is a position that other Buddhists and other Buddhist literature may not agree with though.
Are you retracting to your original statements then?
eg. a culture which has a custom of executing people would be in conflict with the principle of non-harm and precept of not taking life.
That would not be "forbid" in the sense of some external agency enforcing such ideals upon others, but in the sense of how can one consider oneself Buddhist and still engage in, and actively support and justify, such actions?
Following this statement's reasoning it would mean that since Ven. Xingyun is supporting and justifying actions which are in conflict the principle of non-harm, it would be difficult for he himself to be considered Buddhist or consider himself as such.
I am simply not sympathetic to his position and I think anyone who is is fostering the seeds for continued violence and hatred. Killing criminals in prison (the death penalty) is contrary to what Buddha taught on many many levels. It is disappointing that someone like Ven. Xingyun would teach such things. It actually takes way a lot of his credibility as a leader and teacher.